The Internet Archive Just Made a Ton of Old MS-DOS Games Available for Free

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alex

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Edited By alex
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If you have a lot of spare hours in your day and would like to spend some of them trying to figure out if you remember any of Carmen Sandiego's world history lessons, great news! The Internet Archive--the people behind the Internet Wayback Machine and the browser-based Console Living Room--has just gone and added 2,388 MS-DOS games to its Software Library.

Among them, you can find any number of classics, like edutainment stalwart The Oregon Trail, the turn-based space strategy game Master of Orion, and Taito's Bust-a-Move, which I only mention because the MS-DOS version of Bust-a-Move was the only one I ever played as a kid. I had a weird childhood.

All of the games are playable within supported web browsers, and based on my quick skimming through a half-dozen titles today, it seems like the emulation is generally solid. Still, you may run into some issues, according to archivist Jason Scott's announcement post.

First, I really worked hard to have only fully-functioning programs up, or at least, programs that gave viable, useful feedback. Some of them will still fall over and die, and many of them might be weird to play in a browser window, and of course you can’t really save things off for later, and that will limit things too. But on the whole, you will experience some analogue of the MS-DOS program, in your browser, instantly.

You may run into some other quirks, too. Some games--like Stunts--have noticeable audio issues, and if any games had security checks that required you to enter words from the originally included manual, you still have to enter those words to proceed. Seemingly, some kind-hearted souls have been adding those check word solutions to game pages in the form of user reviews.

You may also be asking yourself "Is any of this legal?" That's a great question, but we don't immediately have the answer. Plenty of sites have offered games like this under the guise of them being "abandonware," but that's always felt more like people looking the other way because many of the games' copyright holders have been defunct for years. Is Warner Bros. going to waste the time and effort required to come after this site for offering the crappy DOS port of Total Carnage for free? Probably not.

Still, as a browser-based way to play hell of old games many of us grew up with, this is a pretty neat thing. I already beat Oregon Trail twice today. Now let's see if I can do it as a farmer.

UPDATE: Giant Bomb user @overbite helpfully pointed out that the Internet Archive folks have a DMCA exemption from the Copyright Office, which allows the site to archive:

  • Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.
  • Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and which require the original media or hardware as a condition of access.

It's worth noting that the exemption notice is from 2003, and it was evidently renewed in 2006. We can probably assume that the Copyright Office hasn't made any recent changes to its exemptions that would make what's been done here an issue, but given that the most recent confirmation of the exemption is from nearly 10 years ago, it's tough to say for certain. Still, it seems like the IA is at least trying to keep this within the letter of some kind of copyright law. So if guilt is in any way preventing you from playing these archived games, hopefully this assuages that a bit.

Source: Laughing Squid

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deactivated-57ec1020ef4eb

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This is pretty cool, I'll definitely check some of these out.

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TheHT

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Fucking. Yes.

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KaneRobot

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I remember discussion about this a while back on the podcast regarding the legality of it. I'm assuming this move is them just saying "screw it, we'll put them up and see what happens?"

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cornbredx

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WHAT!?!

This is awesome news!

My only concern is if it's legal. I went to abandonware sites a lot in the late 90s early 2000s because it was believed that this stuff had become "abandonware" (a term mostly used to imply that this stuff was now Public Domain) and it turned out that none of that was actually based on any laws and they were all given cease and desists. It was a real shame. Some of those games are still almost impossible to find.

If this is legal, though, I'm all for it. I'm a little leery about sharing it, though, if it's not. I have similar feelings about a website I am aware of that shares old Epic games (because they are virtually impossible to find otherwise- why they wont release them on Gog BOGGLES MY MIND!). I won't tell anybody about it because I don't know that it's legal. It does exist, though.

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Naoiko

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Woahhh dude that is freaking amazing! Thanks for the update Alex! Keep up the great work. =) Also, give ghost cat a treat for me. Your cats are adorable!

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aldo_q

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This makes me happy...

all I have to say about this :)

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Grimox

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This is fantastic news!

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DeadpanCakes

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#8  Edited By DeadpanCakes

I know what I'm playing for rest of the year~

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newmoneytrash

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This is pretty incredible!

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wrecks

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#10  Edited By wrecks

I kinda doubt I'll play much of anything there, but damn happy it is there!

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BeachThunder

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'Abandonware' isn't and has never been legally recognised.

Is something really okay just because a large company isn't going to bother to sue?

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Slow_pC

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All I thought right away was the vo ... Total carnage !!!

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hero_swe

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Games abandoned and old are abandonware and hence okay to put up for archival purposes. I don't see how it's hard to understand that.

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cornbredx

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@hero_swe: It's not hard to understand, but just saying those words doesn't make it legal haha

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Winternet

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#15  Edited By Winternet

I gave a few of them a try and competent is the way I'd describe it. Most of them had some sound issues, but nonetheless playable/enjoyable. Arkanoid didn't launch for me, though.

Also a "these are the controls for the game" section would go a long way to make the process easier.

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loungemonkey

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How is this not illegal?

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hassun

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Everyone should donate to the Internet Archive.

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InternetDotCom

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#18  Edited By InternetDotCom
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all your favorite classics are there

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Bones8677

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Do I want to play the olde school Oregon Trail again after all these years?

Yes, Yes I do.

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agentboolen

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AMyggen

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Aw yeah!

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notnert427

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monetarydread

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I tried playing some old 386 games in my browser and was getting around 4fps. Maybe it was just the games I have been playing aren't representative of the whole group, but I was not able to play anything I tried properly.

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Overbite

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They got a DMCA extension, which is why they can do this

http://archive.org/about/dmca.php

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MrGetBonus

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TOTAAAAALLL CARRRNAAAAAAAGE

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Nictel

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So. Much. Nostalgia. Also a lot of gems I haven't played. Gonna have a lot of fun with these!

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GalacticPunt

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Hmmm... seems based on the NES version more than the MSX version. Also, when Snake dies he turns into A GODDAMN SKELETON!!!

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cloudymusic

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#28  Edited By cloudymusic

I noticed that the Console Living Room also seems to have over 500 Genesis games and 450 Game Gear games. Pretty crazy.

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RuthLoose

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#29  Edited By RuthLoose

I am anxiously awaiting sub-tier iOS and Android dev studios to slightly alter the sprites and release these as nostalgic "Indie-like" mobile titles.


Total Carnage Crashers-LITE

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cornbredx

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@overbite said:

They got a DMCA extension, which is why they can do this

http://archive.org/about/dmca.php

The only problem with this is it states that it had to have another ruling in 2006 which was 9 years ago.

It needs further updates as to how that is maintaining (even if to stay the ruling still stands).

It also implies they can only archive certain software which requires obsolete hardware "... and which require the original media or hardware as a condition of access."

Their stretching that a bit if they're still going by that and ya... legally they need to update those claims.

I wouldn't mind if they "archived" Epic Mega games stuff, though. Again, I have no clue why Epic is letting their back catalog rot with some offshoot company that doesn't even use the internet to take orders (and instead opts to use some shady form of sending money somewhere with your order which may or may not be legit).

I am often tempted to send a order there to see what happens with my money (and they charge a lot for those old ass Epic games, too).

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deactivated-60dda8699e35a

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'Abandonware' isn't and has never been legally recognised.

Is something really okay just because a large company isn't going to bother to sue?

Perhaps not, but games that are called Abandonware are - as the name implies - abandoned. The company that now owns the franchise is making absolutely nothing off of the license, in most cases they don't intend to ever use the license again, and they're not being supported in any official way anymore.

Is it better to allow a game to fall into obscurity and be forgotten?

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cornbredx

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#32  Edited By cornbredx

@random45: I am not speaking for beachthunder here, but for me it's still all about whether or not it's legal. It doesn't matter if it should be preserved for posterity (it absolutely should) or any other reason we have for wanting these games to remain available or archived.

They are owned by someone and that someone has rights by laws (and by existing as well). Whether we can obtain the game or not isn't important. It's their choice.

All's fair. It needs to be legal.

It does appear the internet archive wants to do this kind of stuff legally, but I haven't seen full evidence yet that they are up to date on that. I'm sure they are, but it should be much more visible than it currently is.

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BeachThunder

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@random45 said:

@beachthunder said:

'Abandonware' isn't and has never been legally recognised.

Is something really okay just because a large company isn't going to bother to sue?

Perhaps not, but games that are called Abandonware are - as the name implies - abandoned. The company that now owns the franchise is making absolutely nothing off of the license, in most cases they don't intend to ever use the license again, and they're not being supported in any official way anymore.

Is it better to allow a game to fall into obscurity and be forgotten?

That doesn't really relate to its legality.

Regardless, there are games on that list that are available via Gog and/or Steam.

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Dan_CiTi

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HELL YES!!

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SchrodngrsFalco

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Oh my, yes! Also, great writing Alex! For some reason, halfway through reading this it just hit me, I'm really enjoying the way this was written. It was just, super easy to read and follow... is that weird?

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Kevin_Cogneto

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@random45 said:

@beachthunder said:

'Abandonware' isn't and has never been legally recognised.

Is something really okay just because a large company isn't going to bother to sue?

Perhaps not, but games that are called Abandonware are - as the name implies - abandoned. The company that now owns the franchise is making absolutely nothing off of the license, in most cases they don't intend to ever use the license again, and they're not being supported in any official way anymore.

Is it better to allow a game to fall into obscurity and be forgotten?

That doesn't really relate to its legality.

Regardless, there are games on that list that are available via Gog and/or Steam.

I'd add to this that just because a license is owned by a company that isn't interested in selling the game, it could still very easily be acquired by a different company much later that is interested in selling the game and defending its copyrights. Look at the LucasArts back catalog for instance, only a year ago it would've been fair to call TIE Fighter or Grim Fandango abandonware. Not anymore. It's not like any of these games have been deliberately released into public domain like, say, Beneath a Steel Sky was.

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deactivated-5bf47a52ab2a3

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Master of Orion keeps crashing on me! Oh well, guess I'll just go play GalCiv...

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LawGamer

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#39  Edited By LawGamer

@cornbredx: It's complicated (surprise).

Looking at the most recent version of the Code of Federal Regulations on this stuff, it looks like the exemption was not renewed, as I do not see the language for video games there. You can find the link here. It is the current Code of Federal Regulations as of January 1.

There are a ton of exemptions for motion pictures, but none for video games. Of course, the definition of a motion picture is "an audiovisual work consisting of a series of related images, which, when shown in succession, impart the impression of motion, together with accompanying sounds, if any."

Audiovisual work is further defined as "works that consist of a series of related images which are intrinsically intended to be shown by the use of machines, or devices such as projectors, viewers, or electronic equipment, together with accompanying sounds, if any, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as films or tapes, in which the works are embodied."

Taking those together, I think you could make the argument that video games are "audiovisual works" since they use a "series of related images shown by the use of machines," in this case computers and video game consoles. Since these images are put together to form a "series of related images", video games would then presumably be "motion pictures" within the definition the Code uses. It is therefore possible that the Librarian of Congress just collapsed the prior exemptions into a general one for "motion pictures."

But I doubt it. The original exemption linked in the article was for “computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and that require the original media or hardware as a condition of access, when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of preservation or archival reproduction of published digital works by a library or archive. A format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or system necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.”

That's a lot of very specific language in there, including things like defining "obsolete" that no longer exists in the Code. I would therefore guess that the video game exemption was not renewed.

I'm not saying Internet Achieve is violating copyright law, mind you. I would need to find prior versions of the CFR to see how the language has changed over the years, which I don't have time to do right now. If I had to hazard a guess right now, I'd say Internet Archive is playing with fire here.

EDIT: I've checked the backlog of the CFR. The video game language exists as of the 2012 edition, but was removed in the 2013 edition. The Library of Congress review takes place every three years. If reviews were done in 2003 and 2006, then we can assume that the exemption was also approved in the 2009 review. This would have expired in 2012 and was apparently not renewed, hence it's absence in the 2013 regulations.

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Shindig

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I miss Home of the Underdogs.

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zerdune

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Kinda shady since GOG and Steam are selling many of these games.

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andrewf87462

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Well at least we know what Jeff will be playing this week then on UPF.

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TanookiSuit

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Oh fuuuuuuck yes

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mathey

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:o

My Childhood

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PrivodOtmenit

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#45  Edited By PrivodOtmenit

@beachthunder said:

Is something really okay just because a large company isn't going to bother to sue?

Yes because nobody is being harmed and have no reason to care about these games.

I played The Twin Snakes via emulation recently, does it matter if I bought that game second hand or just downloaded it? It's silly to talk about legal action when it comes to games from decades ago, in most cases you can't buy the games anymore and even if you can, it's only going to whoever now has the rights.

(I actually own The Twin Snakes but no Gamecube and I definitely wasn't gonna buy a Gamecube)

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cornbredx

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#46  Edited By cornbredx

@lawgamer: that's a lot of interesting information you found, thank you.

If I had to hazard a guess right now, I'd say Internet Archive is playing with fire here.

Ya, I'm worried about that too, but having gone as far as they did I have a hard time believing they'd stop. It'd be nice if they clarified any updates they have on that stuff. Especially if they're going forward with this now, you know. That seems to imply something on their part.

@privodotmenit: It's not silly. It's the right of the creator/owner. I'm sure you'd find it less silly if you created something and wanted to retain that right to choose how it is consumed and archived by others. Even if your choice was to share it freely. I suspect you'd like to make that choice and not have others make it for you.

I played The Twin Snakes via emulation recently, does it matter if I bought that game second hand or just downloaded it?

It does. One is illegal (theft) the other is not (buying something someone else owns and gives to you for the exchange of their and your agreed upon currency ).

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Humanity

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I was excited to play Stunts, one of the first games I ever played on a PC and even though I couldn't cause of the security check it was a nice blast from the past.

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ShaggE

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Kinda janky as of now, but obscure DOS (and early Windows) games are kind of my bread and butter, so this is absolutely awesome.

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madmatt213

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#49  Edited By madmatt213
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onarum

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#50  Edited By onarum

this is awesome, I took Alex' challenge and captured carmen sandiego! god I love that game.